Serena Williams signalled she is not quite ready for retirement advancing to the second round of the U.S. Open on Monday with a scrappy 6-3 6-3 win over Danka Kovinic.
The victory over the 80th ranked Kovinic, just her second this year, will be a confidence boost for Williams, but the path to a record equalling 24th Grand Slam now gets treacherous.
Waiting in the wings is Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit, who breezed past Jaqueline Cristian 6-3 6-0.
Williams indicated her intention to retire in a Vogue article in early August, saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the U.S. Open as her final event.
For tennis fans, however, the message was clear, the U.S. Open would be where she would take her final bow.
Could there be an encore?
The former-world number one has played coy even refusing to rule out next year’s Australia Open.
But in a strange post-match ceremony celebrating her career, which was not yet finished, Williams gave the clearest sign yet that the U.S. Open will indeed be her last tournament and expanded on that later in her press conference.
“It’s extremely difficult still because I absolutely love being out there,” said Williams. “The more tournaments I play, I feel like the more I can belong out there. But it’s time for me, you know, to evolve to the next thing.”
Pressed if the U.S. Open was definitely her last event Williams again stepped back from the brink.
“I’ve been pretty vague about it, right,” smiled Williams. “I’m going to stay vague because you never know.”
A montage of Williams career played before she appeared on court that left the door open a crack for a return some day, “if you ever decide to return Queen your throne will be waiting” ended the video.
A defiant Williams, however, made it clear she was not giving up that throne just yet.
Having been world number one for 319 weeks, Williams arrived in New York ranked below 600 and unseeded.
Even with Williams far from her best the odds were stacked against the 27-year-old from Montenegro.
Playing in her 21st U.S. Open, Williams has never lost in the first round and her victory over Kovinic was her 106th at Flushing Meadows.